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Canadian astronomers champing at the bit for release of 1st images from James Webb telescope – CBC News



Roughly 13.8 billion years ago, the groundwork to everything we are, everything we’ve come to understand, was born.

Most people know that event as the Big Bang, but the creation of what we see today took time. Lots of it. Over billions of years it transformed from a place of high density and temperature, then expansion and then cooling. Eventually the simplest of elements formed, like hydrogen and helium, still the most abundant elements in our universe.

The first stars ignited, piercing through the swampy darkness. Then they clumped together to form galaxies, islands of stars in this dark void, even superclusters of hundreds to thousands of galaxies all linked together. Supernovas — violent explosions of massive stars — blew up within these starry islands, creating more stars and eventually planets. Like Earth, where life sprung up in abundance.

On Tuesday, the most powerful telescope ever built will help humanity trace its roots back to the beginning of time by peering through gas and dust, shedding light on what has thus far been unseeable.

And maybe, even reveal an atmosphere around an exoplanet.

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), a joint mission between NASA, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and the European Space Agency (ESA), will release several images — five at the very least — from peering through the darkness and the dust back to when the universe was in its infancy.

On Friday, the agencies announced their targets:

  • SMACS 0723, a cluster of galaxies that distort the light of objects behind them allowing astronomers to see faint, distant galaxies behind them.
  • WASP-96b, a giant gas planet that lies 1,150 light-years from Earth.
  • The Southern Ring Nebula.
  • Stephan’s Quintet, a collection of five galaxies.
  • And one of the most magnificent nebulas in the night sky, the Carina Nebula.

“You’re going to see images that are absolutely stunning,” said René Doyon, a professor at Université de Montréal and principal investigator of NIRISS, one of the four scientific instruments on the James Webb Space Telescope.

The JWST is a $10-billion powerhouse. Sitting in an orbit beyond the moon, the telescope is larger, and thus much more powerful than the Hubble Space Telescope which orbits Earth. It also has different capabilities than Hubble, and as a result, is able to peer further back into time to when the universe was in its infancy.

Canada has played a major role in Webb’s capabilities. First, there is the Canadian-built Fine Guidance Sensor (FGS), which is crucial to keeping the telescope on target. 

There’s also the Near-Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph (NIRISS), which will help astronomers study the atmospheres of exoplanets and observe distant galaxies.

The Southern Ring Nebula, also known as the ‘Eight-Burst’ Nebula because it appears to be a figure eight when seen through some telescopes, is visible in the southern hemisphere. The nebula is nearly half a light year in diameter and 2,000 light years away. Gases are moving away from the dying star at its centre at a speed of 14 kilometres per second. (NASA/The Hubble Heritage Team [STScI/AURA/NASA])

Because of Canada’s contribution, astronomers here will get a lot of time to use the telescope.

“Canadians should be proud to [be part] of this project,” said Doyon, who’s been working on Webb for the past 20 years. “Every single image, every single [bit] of data that will come out of Webb will have been guided by the eye, the Canadian eye from FGS. So … we should definitely be proud.”

Peering deeper into the past

The farther away an object is, the longer it takes for its light to reach us. That means everything we see is as it was, not as it is.

Telescopes allow us to see further back in time by collecting faint light. The bigger the telescope, the more light it can collect and the further back it can see.

While Hubble has been able to see distant galaxies, it doesn’t have the resolution Webb does, so that means the images will be far sharper, revealing much more detail. 

As well, Webb sees in the near-infrared, which means it can look through the dust and gas that might otherwise obscure objects. Hubble mainly sees the universe in optical light, like the human eye, though it can also see in ultraviolet and near-infrared wavelengths. Webb, however, is optimized to see in the infrared.

All this is to say, Webb will peer deeper into our past than ever before and provide astronomers with incredible detail.

“There’s a difference between detection and actually studying something in depth. Hubble had seen specks of objects that we think had formed just a few 100 million years after the birth of the universe,” said Lamiya Mowla, an astronomer at the University of Toronto’s Dunlap Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics. 

“However, those need to be studied even deeper with James Webb. With James Webb we can actually see objects as they’re forming, just after they are getting warm; discs are forming; bulges of the galaxies are forming. That’s the type of era that we will be able to see with the James Webb Space Telescope.”

This image shows the Hubble Ultra Deep Field 2012, an improved version of the Hubble Ultra Deep Field image featuring additional observation time. It revealed for the first time a population of distant galaxies at redshifts between 9 and 12, including the most distant object observed to date. These galaxies will require confirmation using spectroscopy by the forthcoming James Webb Space Telescope before they are considered to be fully confirmed. (NASA, ESA, R. Ellis (Caltech))

Mowla, who specializes in galaxy evolution and formation, is also part of the CAnadian NIRISS Unbiased Cluster Survey (CANUCS), which will study some of the earliest galaxies in the universe. 

She’s eagerly anticipating the release of the first science images and will be watching from St. Mary’s University in Halifax with fellow CANUCS members, including Chris Willott, an astronomer with National Research Council Canada’s Herzberg Astronomy and Astrophysics Research Centre who is leading the research. The instrument will use NIRISS to study galaxies at different periods in the universe’s history.

I nearly broke my jaw the first time I saw this data.– René Doyon, professor at Université de Montréal 

Willott said he’s seen some early test images already.

“It’s super exciting to finally see the data getting released,” said Willott. “I’ve been looking at these images for months now. And they are just so spectacular, and it’s really exciting that the whole world is going to get to see them on Tuesday.”

He’s anxious to get more data to study the evolution of galaxies, which come in all sorts of different shapes and sizes.

“I want to see how far back we can actually go towards the beginning of the universe. We know that Webb is going to smash the records that we could get from Hubble in terms of how far back and how early in the universe we can look. But we don’t really know how far back we’ll get with Webb. And that’s something I think that will take time.” 

‘A new chapter’

Webb will not only be able to see some of the earliest galaxies, but it also can detect atmospheres around distant planets orbiting other stars. Ultimately, astronomers hope Webb will be able to detect any potential signatures of life from these exoplanets.

“I can say that [on] July 12, we’re turning a new page on a new chapter for studying exoplanet atmospheres,” Doyon said. “The quality of the data is just completely amazing. I nearly broke my jaw the first time I saw this data.”

While the general public may be excited to see new and more detailed images of our universe, for astronomers it’s all about getting their hands on the data for analysis.

For example, Doyon said, there’s the famous exoplanetary system known as TRAPPIST-1, which has seven planets, three of which are in the habitable zone, a region around a star where water is able to exist on a planet’s surface. 

This chart shows, on the top row, artist conceptions of the seven planets of TRAPPIST-1 with their orbital periods, distances from their star, radii and masses as compared to those of Earth. The bottom row shows data about Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

“The only way to find out whether they have water on their surface is to measure the atmosphere,” he said. “And Webb has the capability to do this and particularly the NIRISS instrument.”

But that’s just the beginning of the exoplanet research. Astronomers hope to eventually find signatures of life.

“The next question is: do they have water on [their surfaces], then the next step will be biosignatures, gas that is only produced by biological activity. That is a long shot. I mean, we know that it will be very hard to detect that with Webb, it will take probably a whole lifetime of JWST to do this, but who knows? That’s the nice thing about this: we’re going to be caught by surprise.”

Mowla is also waiting to be surprised researching galactic evolution.

“Really, I am waiting to see something that cannot be explained by the current theory. Because that’s what always happens. Whenever you have new data, and you look at the universe in a different realm. You always find something that will go against your theories and it will force you to rethink a lot of things,” she said.

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HPC helps identify new, cleaner source for white light – EurekAlert



image: Upon irradiation by infrared light, adamantane-based molecular clusters with the general composition [(RT)4E5] (with R = organic group; T = C, Si, Ge, Sn; E = O, S, Se, Te, NH, CH2, ON•) emit highly directional white light.
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Credit: Elisa Monte, Justus-Liebig-Universität Gießen

When early humans discovered how to harness fire, they were able to push back against the nightly darkness that enveloped them. With the invention and widespread adoption of electricity, it became easier to separate heat from light, work through the night, and illuminate train cars to highways. In recent years, old forms of electric light generation such as halogen lightbulbs have given way to more energy efficient alternatives, further cheapening the costs to brighten our homes, workplaces, and lives generally.

Unfortunately, however, white light generation by newer technologies such as light-emitting diodes (LEDs) is not straightforward and often relies on a category of materials called “rare-earth metals,” which are increasingly scarce. This has recently led scientists to look for ways to produce white light more sustainably. Researchers at Giessen University, the University of Marburg, and Karlsruhe Institute of Technology have recently uncovered a new class of material called a “cluster glass” that shows great potential for replacing LEDs in many applications.

“We are witnessing the birth of white-light generation technology that can replace current light sources. It brings all the requirements that our society asks for: availability of resources, sustainability, biocompatibility,” said Prof. Dr. Simone Sanna, Giessen University Professor and lead computational researcher on the project.  “My colleagues from the experimental sciences, who observed this unexpected white light generation, asked for theoretical support. Cluster glass has an incredible optical response, but we don’t understand why. Computational methods can help to understand those mechanisms. This is exactly the challenge that theoreticians want to face.”

Sanna and his collaborators have turned to the power of high-performance computing (HPC), using the Hawk supercomputer at the High-Performance Computing Center Stuttgart (HLRS) to better understand cluster glass and how it might serve as a next-generation light source. They published their findings in Advanced Materials.

Clear-eyed view on cluster glass formation

If you are not a materials scientist or chemist, the word glass might just mean the clear, solid material in your windows or on your dinner table. Glass is actually a class of materials that are considered “amorphous solids;” that is, they lack an ordered crystalline lattice, often due to a rapid cooling process. At the atomic level, their constituent particles are in a suspended, disordered state. Unlike crystal materials, where particles are orderly and symmetrical across a long molecular distance, glasses’ disorder at the molecular level make them great for bending, fragmenting, or reflecting light.

Experimentalists from the University of Marburg recently synthesized a particular of glass called a “cluster glass.” Unlike a traditional glass that almost behaves as a liquid frozen in place, cluster glass, as the name implies, is a collection of separate clusters of molecules that behave as a powder at room temperature. They generate bright, clear, white light upon irradiation by infrared radiation.  While powders cannot easily be used to manufacture small, sensitive electronic components, the researchers found a way to re-cast them in glass form: “When we melt the powder, we obtain a material that has all the characteristics of a glass and can be put in any form needed for a specific application,” Sanna said.

While experimentalists were able to synthesize the material and observe its luminous properties, the group turned to Sanna and HPC to better understand how cluster glass behaves the way it does. Sanna pointed out that white light generation isn’t a property of a single molecule in a system, but the collective behaviors of a group of molecules. Charting these molecules’ interactions with one another and with their environment in a simulation therefore means that researchers must both capture the large-scale behaviors of light generation and also observe how small-scale atomic interactions influence the system. Any of these factors would be computationally challenging. Modeling these processes at multiple scales, however, is only possible using leading HPC resources like Hawk.

Collaboration between experimentalists and theoreticians has become increasingly important in materials science, as synthesizing many iterations of a similar material can be slow and expensive. High-performance computing, Sanna indicated, makes it much faster to identify and test materials with novel optical properties. “The relationship between theory and experiment is a continuous loop. We can predict the optical properties of a material that was synthesized by our chemist colleagues, and use these calculations to verify and better understand the material’s properties,” Sanna said. “We can also design new materials on a computer, providing information that chemists can use to focus on synthesizing compounds that have the highest likelihood of being useful. In this way, our models inspire the synthetization of new compounds with tailored optical properties”

In the case of cluster glass, this approach resulted in an experiment that was verified by simulation, with modelling helping to show the researchers the link between the observed optical properties and the molecular structure of their cluster glass material and can now move forward as a candidate to replace light sources heavily reliant on rare-earth metals.

HPC expedites R&D timelines

HPC plays a major role in helping researchers accelerate the timeline between new discovery and new product or technology. Sanna explained that HPC drastically cut down on the time to get a better understanding of cluster glass. “We spend a lot of time doing simulation, but it is much less than characterizing these materials in reality,” he said. “The clusters we model have a diamond-shaped core with 4 ligands (molecular chains) attached to it. Those ligands can be made of any number of things, so doing this in an experiment is time consuming.”

Sanna pointed out that the team is still limited by how long they can perform individual runs for their simulations. Many research projects on supercomputers can divide a complex system into many small parts and run calculations for each part in parallel. Sanna’s team needs to pay special attention to long-distance particle interactions across large systems, so they are limited by how much they can divide their simulation across computer nodes. He indicated that having regular access to longer run times—more than a day straight on a supercomputer—would allow the team to work more quickly.  

In ongoing studies of cluster glass Sanna’s team hopes to thoroughly understand the origin of its light generating properties. This could help to identify additional new materials and to determine how best to apply cluster glass in light generation.

Sanna explained that HPC resources at HLRS were essential for his team’s basic science research, which he hopes will lead to new products that can benefit society. “The main computational achievement in this journal article was only possible through our access to the machine in Stuttgart,” he said.

Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system.

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The sun is dying: Here’s how long it has before exhausting its fuel – Firstpost



A new study has estimated the sun’s evolutionary process will continue for billions of more years before it runs out of its fuel and turns into a red giant. It has revealed the past and future of the sun, how the sun will behave at what stage and when it will enter the dusk of its life

This handout photograph released by The European Space Agency (ESA) on July 16, 2020, shows an image of the Sun, roughly halfway between the Earth and the Sun. AFP

The sun is very likely going through its middle age, a recent study published in June this year by the European Space Agency (ESA), based on the observations from its Gaia spacecraft, has revealed.

The ESA’s Gaia telescope has revealed information that could help determine when the sun will die, which was formed around 4.57 billion years ago.

The study has estimated the sun’s evolutionary process to continue for billions of more years before it runs out of its fuel and turns into a red giant. The study has revealed the past and future of the sun, how the sun will behave at what stage and when it will enter the dusk of its life.

What has the ESA study revealed?

According to the report made public on 13 June, 2022, at the age of around 4.57 billion years, our sun is currently in its ”comfortable middle age, fusing hydrogen into helium and generally being rather stable; staid even”.

However, it will not be the case forever. The sun will eventually die. The information by ESA’s Gaia observatory has also revealed the process of its decay.

The sun is dying Heres how long it has before exhausting its fuel

Stellar evolution. ESA

“As the hydrogen fuel runs out in its core, and changes begin in the fusion process, we expect it to swell into a red giant star, lowering its surface temperature in the process.”

Exactly how this happens depends on how much mass a star contains and its chemical composition.

To deduce this, astronomer Orlagh Creevey, Observatoire de la Côte d’Azur, France, and collaborators from Gaia’s Coordination Unit 8, and colleagues combed the data looking for the most accurate stellar observations that the spacecraft could offer.

“We wanted to have a really pure sample of stars with high precision measurements,” says Orlagh.

When will the sun die?

The study found that the sun will reach a maximum temperature of approximately 8 billion years of age, before starting to cool down and increase in size.

“It will become a red giant star around 10–11 billion years of age. The Sun will reach the end of its life after this phase, when it eventually becomes a dim white dwarf.”

A white dwarf is a former star that has exhausted all its hydrogen that it once used as it central nuclear fuel and lost its outer layers as a planetary nebula.

“If we don’t understand our own Sun – and there are many things we don’t know about it – how can we expect to understand all of the other stars that make up our wonderful galaxy,” Orlagh said.

By identifying similar stars to the sun, but this time with similar ages, the observational gap can be bridged in how much we know about the sun compared to other stars in the universe.

To identify these ‘solar analogues’ in the Gaia data, Orlagh and colleagues looked for stars with temperatures, surface gravities, compositions, masses and radii that are all similar to the present-day Sun. They found 5863 stars that matched their criteria.

With inputs from agencies

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SLS ready to roll to LC-39B for launch, teams prepare for multiple launch trajectories – –



NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket has completed all pre-launch preparations inside the Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and is ready for its 4.2-mile (6.7-km) journey to Launch Complex 39B.

The multi-hour rollout process is currently set to begin at 9 PM EDT on Tuesday, August 16 (01:00 UTC on Wednesday, August 17), weather permitting – which should result in a sunrise arrival at the pad.

The rollout is the last major milestone ahead of launch, which will differ from most recent missions in that the rocket’s needed azimuth — or flight path — will continuously change through each day’s launch window.

Launching to the Moon

Launching into a rendezvous orbit with a satellite or station in low Earth orbit can be relatively simplified as needing to launch directly into the plane – and therefore the same orbital inclination – of the target’s orbit.

For example, when launching to the International Space Station from Florida, the azimuth the rocket follows is 44.98°. This does not change based on when within the daily window liftoff occurs.

However, the same is not true when trying to launch into an intercept trajectory with the Moon.

[embedded content]

As related by Artemis 1 Ascent/Entry Flight Director Judd Frieling to NASASpaceflight during Artemis Day events in Mission Control at the Johnson Space Center, the Moon’s motion in its orbit coupled with its constantly-changing relative inclination to the launch site complicates the needed launch azimuth for SLS.

On each launch day, the azimuth SLS must fly moves incrementally, second-by-second, throughout the window to match the movement of the Moon relative to the Earth for the translunar injection (TLI) burn.

According to NASA, for SLS and Artemis 1, the azimuth at the opening of the window on all three launch attempts on August 29, September 2, and September 5 is 62°, resulting in a 38° inclination orbit.

At the end of each window, the azimuth flown would be 108° into a 32° inclination orbit.

But before SLS can be readied for its roll onto course on launch day, it must first arrive at the pad.

Rolling out for launch

The Artemis 1 launch rollout will mark the first time since May 31, 2011, that a vehicle will emerge from the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at the Kennedy Space Center for launch operations.

SLS and Orion at LC-39B during preparations for the WDR (Credit: Julia Bergeron for NSF/L2)

As it has twice already for its wet dress rehearsal campaigns, the SLS rocket for Artemis 1 will make the journey to LC-39B atop crawler-transporter 2, one of two crawler-transporters owned by NASA and the only one modified to carry the full stack Artemis/SLS vehicle to the pad.

The upgrades were necessary due to the crawler’s age and the increased mass of the SLS vehicle with its combined Mobile Launcher (ML).

The combined SLS/ML weight is approximately 15 million pounds (6.8 million kg) and is significantly heavier than the previous record holder in the Space Shuttle at 12 million pounds (5.4 million kg).

Upgrades included a rating to handle 18 million pounds (8.1 million kg), a 50% greater load than was originally envisioned, as well as a new 1,500-kilowatt electrical power generator, parking and service brakes, redesigned and upgraded roller bearings, and several other modifications for the Artemis program.

Like the crawlers, their purpose-built road, the crawlerway, also underwent upgrades between Shuttle and SLS.

Beginning in 2013, the crawlerway’s foundations were repaired with new lime rock to return them to their original condition and ready them for the Block 1B SLS, presently scheduled for later this decade, which will be heavier than the Block 1 SLS used for Artemis 1.

The 15 million pound SLS and ML on LC-39B during Wet Dress Rehearsal. (Credit: Nathan Barker for NSF)

Additionally, 30,000 tons of new Alabama river rock were added to return the crawlerway to its optimal depth.

For Launch Complex 39B, which was used for Apollo, Skylab, Apollo-Soyuz, Space Shuttle, and Ares I-X missions, the pad was slowly modified in stages, beginning in the final years of the Shuttle program, into a clean pad configuration with three, 600-foot (183 m) lightning towers connected with catenary wires.

The clean pad is without the Shuttle-era fixed and rotating service structures that serviced the Shuttle stack.

The sound suppression system, flame trench, cabling, and other systems were also upgraded during the transition to SLS. Work on Pad 39B has also included a new 1.25 million gallon liquid hydrogen tank, though this is not yet complete and will not be used for Artemis 1.

Pad 39B’s clean pad configuration was designed to be able to handle different types of rockets as part of a multi-user spaceport emphasis. To date, only Northrop Grumman expressed interest in the pad share for their now-canceled OmegA rocket.

Artemis 1

Artemis 1 is scheduled to spend 13 days at Pad 39B after the August 16 rollout. During this time, the ML will be hooked up to the plumbing servicing the rocket with liquid oxygen, liquid hydrogen, helium, and liquid nitrogen.

Crawler-Transporter-2 (CT-2) during rollout testing. (Credit: NASA)

Other round systems required for the launch will also be activated while teams conduct system checks on the SLS and Orion. Should all go well, the stage will be set for the 60th overall launch — and the second flight to the Moon after Apollo 10 — from Pad 39B.

The Artemis 1 countdown is currently scheduled to begin with Call To Stations at 9:53 AM EDT (13:53 UTC) on August 27. Fueling would begin early in the morning of August 29 for a two-hour launch window opening at 8:33 AM EDT (12:33 UTC).

Overall, Artemis 1 has 25 days to launch after the flight termination system (FTS) testing on the launch vehicle was completed on August 12.

Should Artemis 1 not be able to launch on August 29, launch windows for September 2 and 5 are available.

The two-hour September 2 launch window starts at 12:48 PM EDT (16:48 UTC) while the September 5 window lasts for 90 minutes, starting at 5:12 PM EDT (21:12 UTC).

Should Artemis 1 not be able to make any of the launch windows, crawler-transporter 2 would return to Pad 39B to roll the stack back to the VAB for FTS replacement and any other work the vehicle or ML might need before the next available launch window, most likely October 17 through 31.

Together, the first two SLS/Orion Artemis missions will pave the way for the first human lunar landing since 1972 on Artemis 3, currently scheduled for no earlier than late 2025.

Artemis 3 will use the SLS and Orion to ferry astronauts to lunar orbit, where a waiting SpaceX Starship lander procured under the HLS contract will transport them to and from the surface near the Moon’s south pole.

Just under 50 years after humanity last left the Moon in December 1972, Artemis 1 stands ready to begin our return journey. This time, to stay.

(Lead photo: SLS basking in the morning sun at LC-39B. Credit: Stephen Marr for NSF)

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